NCMA Recommends: The Cliff, Etretat, Sunset

Claude Monet, The Cliff, Etretat, Sunset, 1882—1883, oil on canvas, 23 13/16 x 32 3/16 in., Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina

Claude Monet’s stunningly atmospheric and brilliantly colored landscapes are among his most popular surviving works. The Cliff, ‰tretat, Sunset captures the famous, monumental cliffs in the resort town and fishing village of ‰tretat in northwestern France, just a short distance away from Monet’s hometown of Le Havre.

The natural beauty of the cliffs–called Elephant and Needle because of their distinctive shapes–captivated the artist. During three weeks in ‰tretat, he wrote almost daily to his future wife, Alice, that he was in awe of the cliffs and that they had seduced him. To paint this love letter to his native province of Normandy, Monet made sketches for weeks, braving the rough terrain and cold February weather to observe the cliffs at different times of day. Monet’s layered brushstrokes of complementary colors convey the impressionist obsession with capturing a specific moment of atmosphere and light.

Conservation Lecture

The French impressionists painted like no other artists that came before them, thanks in large part to a dramatic change in paint materials during their lifetime. More than 20 new paint pigments were invented in the early 19th century, a result of the burgeoning new field of chemistry and the industrial revolution. The Cliff, ‰tretat, Sunset, with its classic “impressionist” technique, is a wonderful example of the new art, and analysis of the paint Monet used during the formative years of impressionism illustrate the impact of paint materials on the history of art. Learn more in the Zoom lecture below or through this Revolution in Paint overview.–Perry Hurt, Conservator

Global Connection

While we’re at home, here are some ways to travel around the world to Monet’s stomping grounds and even under the sea!–Felicia K. Ingram, Manager of Interpretation

– View an online exhibition with Google Arts and Culture featuring the Mus©e des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. This tour highlights ‰tretat, a town on the north coast of France noted for the striking rock formations of its white cliffs.

Circa, the Museum blog

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the NCMA’s West Building. Since West Building opened in 2010, millions of visitors have entered, and Architectural Record recognized it as one of the 125 most significant works of architecture since 1891. Like Monet, architect Thomas Phifer designed it with the progression of daylight in mind.

Carolina Ballet performance of Monet

I began by thinking of the Water Lilies and how in my mind I often thought of them as upside-down ballerinas in tutus. After taking a trip to Paris and visiting the Mus©e Marmottan Monet, I was left with many vivid impressions … The wonderful movement and color of the pair of paintings from 1920, Path under the Rose Arches, draw you into the paintings’ vanishing point, the color and movement being so vivid that I imagined a riotous bacchanal-type dance.–Robert Weiss, Founding Artistic Director, Carolina Ballet

Audio Description

The recording below is an audio description of The Cliff, Etretat, Sunset by Claude Monet. Audio Description is narration for individuals who are blind or have low vision. It is a means to inform them about visual content essential for comprehension. It is helpful for visitors to get an idea of what a piece of art looks like through vivid language.


Like Monet’s paintings, this playlist toys with the concepts of light and time, including songs by The Lumineers, Dr. Dog, Arcade Fire, and more.–Janette Hoffman, Acting Artistic Director and General Manager for the NCMA Amphitheater


These films evoke Monet’s impressionist style, depict serene landscapes, and convey the power of art and imagination to transport us to a different state of mind.–Maria Lopez, Manager of Film and Lecture Programs, and Michele Frederick, Associate Curator of European Art

  – I, Claude Monet (2017). Director: Phil Grabsky. Immersive art documentary told in Monet’s own words through his letters. Rent on Vimeo or watch free with your library card on Kanopy.

  – 13 Lakes (2004). Director: James Benning. Experimental film with static shots of 13 lakes that appear like serene moving landscape paintings. Watch for free on YouTube.

  – Linnea in Monet’s Garden (1993). Directors: Christina Bjork, Lena Anderson. For the whole family. Animated short about Monet’s art and life. Watch free on YouTube.

  – Loving Vincent (2017). Directors: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman. Beautiful experimental film made up of 65,000 oil paintings done in Van Gogh’s style. PG-13. Watch on Hulu or rent on Amazon Prime or YouTube.

  – The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013). Director: Isao Takahata. Family-friendly animated film that reminds us of Monet’s Japanese influences. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Buy on Amazon Prime or YouTube.


  – Monet by Carla Rachman. Rachman tells a lovely story about how she once stood in the street with four postcards: a Monet, a Turner, a Van Gogh, and a Leonardo da Vinci. “When I asked the people passing which one they’d like to own, they opted almost universally for the Monet–an image of the Japanese bridge.”

  – Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell is historical fiction about the love story between Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux.

  – What Painting Is by James Elkins. Elkins takes readers on an in-depth exploration of the alchemy of the painting process, including a thorough treatment of Monet.

For Young Readers

  – Katie Meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew. Katie visits the museum for her grandmother’s birthday. She soon discovers that her imagination allows her to enter the paintings on the walls. Enjoy a read-aloud video of this book.

  – Monet Paints a Day by Julie Danneberg. This book transports you to ‰tretat, in France, where Monet spends his days studying how light changes his environment.

  – The Golden Glow by Benjamin Flouw. This whimsical book follows a fox as he journeys to find the golden glow. See if he can capture light in the same way as Monet!

  – Brush with Greatness: Monet by Tamra B. Orr. While sweeping the platforms of a busy train station in Paris, Gabriel, the young narrator, shares his experience meeting Claude Monet.

Family Activities

Discover the magic and beauty in your world with art activities, books, and more inspired by Claude Monet’s The Cliff, ‰tretat, Sunset. Click over to NCMALearn to see the full list.–Courtney Klemens, Manager of Family Programs, and Emily Perreault, PreK Programs Educator


Like Monet, many poets explore the concept of time through the passing of the day and the seasons. Often these progressions become a metaphor for the progression of life and life’s experiences. To complement The Cliff, ‰tretat, Sunset, we selected four poems that highlight these uses of imagery and metaphor. Head to NCMALearn for the full list of poetries and additional poetry activities for all ages. –Katherine White, Deputy Director

Coloring Page 

Color your own The Cliff, ‰tretat, Sunset using our printable PDF. Download it, print it, and then tag us in your creation on social media @ncartmuseum.

Educational Lesson Plan 

Invite students to imagine that they can physically step into Monet’s The Cliff, ‰tretat, Sunset and use their senses to explore the landscape within the painting through this NCMALearn lesson plan.


Transport yourself and state of mind through engaging with this work of art, your senses, and nature. Follow along with a guided mindful observation, or learn about the practice of the “Sit Spot.” They’re great ways to connect with nature while staying close to home and taking a break from screens, and are appropriate for all ages.–Bryanne Senor, Manager of Park Programs 


Apr 10, 2020


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